The hunting Neanderthal was smarter than expected

The Paleo diet is one of the various diets that are supposed to help overfed Europeans to achieve a healthy metabolism.

The hunting Neanderthal was smarter than expected

The Paleo diet is one of the various diets that are supposed to help overfed Europeans to achieve a healthy metabolism. Its adherents assume that the constitution of modern man differs little from that of his ancestors, who opened the lineage of the genus Homo about 2.5 million years ago. They had been hunter-gatherers until the dawn of the Neolithic Revolution about 10,000 years ago. Therefore, products from the crops are not on the Paleo menu, but instead a lot of meat.

However, this diet could also lead to a dead end. Isotope analyzes of Neanderthals have shown that these cousins ​​of Homo sapiens, who lived in Europe up to 40,000 years ago, mainly consumed meat from large animals, while plants and berries played a lesser role. This specialization is cited by some scientists as the reason for the extinction of this subline of Homo sapiens.

Therefore, the finds, which have now been presented in the Prehistoric Museum (Urmu) in Blaubeuren, are a sensation. According to this, the Neanderthals who inhabited the “Hohle Fels” cave in the Swabian Jura by no means disdained small animals. Nicholas Conrad, Professor of Prehistory at the University of Tübingen, and his colleague Keiko Kitagawa presented bird bones as “Find of the Year”, which suggest that ptarmigan, capercaillie and “duck” enriched the food supply.

The scientists interpret the bone finds as the first Central European evidence of a hunting style that was previously not believed to be capable of the supposedly grossly motorized Neanderthals. Conrad explained that they correct the thesis that these Stone Age people primarily hunted large game such as reindeer, wild horses, woolly rhinoceroses or their ilk. For a long time, however, they were not believed to be capable of the more complex hunt of small and more agile animals such as birds and rabbits.

So far, the scientists have been able to recover 1187 bird bones in the cave from a sediment layer that lies below the find layers of modern humans. Electron spin resonance dating gave an age of around 65,000 years. These bones show bite marks, but also show the use of tools that the Neanderthals apparently used to separate the flesh from the bones, Conrad explained. "Most of the marks suggest joints were broken apart and flesh was detached from the bone."

This fits with finds made in southern Europe a few years ago. Typical cut and scrape marks elsewhere also suggest that Neanderthals adorned themselves with bird feathers and claws.

As a result, the thesis that his monotonous diet contributed to the extinction of the Neanderthals loses its power of conviction. Thereafter, their specialization in large animals would have made them inflexible to respond to changing environmental conditions. They would also have found a superior hunting competitor in modern humans, who reached Europe about 50,000 years ago.

"We have to break away from the widespread image of the muscular Neanderthals with a one-sided preference for mammoth steaks: Highly intelligent hunting strategies, the need for jewelry and, as we know, the burying of the dead - all this shows the Neanderthals to be flexible and symbolically gifted people who far had more in mind than just surviving,” said the director of the Urmu, Stefanie Kölbl.

The cave "Hohle Fels" is part of the Unesco Biosphere Reserve Swabian Alb. One of the most important finds from the cave is the "Venus from Hohle Fels" - one of the oldest representations of a human body.

"Find of the Year", Prehistoric Museum, Blaubeuren, until September 12, 2022

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